3a. – LIVING DANCES

WHAT ARE LIVING DANCES?

My definition of a living dance is one that is currently danced in its area of origin by locals for their own purposes, not for an audience beyond their community. Dancing could be in a social club, a party, a wedding, a street fair, a religious ceremony, etc.

The International Folk Dance community has thousands of dances in its repertoire, yet most of these dances are no longer performed in their land of origin or its diaspora (indeed many never were!). Some are only seen on stage, as part of a presentation of traditional culture. To my mind, these dances, no matter how enjoyable, are museum exhibits.

I believe mastering living dances should be the first priority of any folk dancer. For newcomers, these dances could be the starting point, as they are among the most simple and universally known. For the more advanced, they should be the ‘foundation’. Many have multiple complex and constantly evolving variations.

WHAT ARE CHORAL DANCES? In ancient Greece, the CHORUS was a group of performers who reflected or commented on the action in a play, often by dancing. (Even today, a chorus line is a dance line.)

Later, Greek Christian missionaries evolved a Greek-based alphabet for their pagan neighbours the Bulgarians, (which became the alphabet for most Slavic countries) and Greek words evolved into Slavic words. Chorus became Horo in Bulgarian, Oro in Macedonian, Khorovod in Russian and Ukrainian, Kolo (also meaning ‘wheel’) in Serbian & Croatian, and Hora in the non-Slavic Romanian.

In each case the word means a dance in a line or circle where the dancers move as one, usually while holding hands. Some choral dances have a leader who improvises fancy variations while the rest of the community maintains the basic step. Choral dances are not solo or couple dances, or ensemble dances with sub-groups performing different actions.

Living dances are not ‘fixed’. There is no set way of doing them, beyond a basic step that keeps the dancers moving in the same direction. Dancers are free to expend as much or as little energy as the mood strikes them. Virtuoso improvisers may move alongside sluggish elders. Music accompanying living dances is usually live, even if played on an electronic keyboard. Musicians and dancers stimulate and challenge each other.

I do not consider every choral dance seen in Sofia to be a living choral dance. Hip hop or Bollywood-style dances, for instance, do not spring from Bulgarian roots, though they may in time outlive fad status to become part of Bulgarian culture. I’m seeking current examples of dances identified as classics – danced for decades, over a wide geographical area. For example the Serbian dance Užičko Kolo was known in the ‘60’s as Moravac Kolo, and is also danced in Croatia as Kukunješće.

My source for these dances is the Internet. People everywhere are posting themselves dancing. Folk dancers may be disappointed to see that these people are usually wearing modern ‘western’ clothing, not traditional costumes, and accompanied by electronic, not traditional instruments. To me this is a ‘certificate of authenticity’; proving the dance is part of modern everyday life.

Each dance has a context. What does its name mean? What do the songs mean? Is it part of a ‘family’ of similar dances? Is it part of a ritual or rite of passage? How did it get to North America and who brought it? Look for this information –  it will enrich your dance experience.

Traditional folk dance culture is alive and kicking in the Balkans, Anatolia & the Levant. Living choral dances are time-tested communal dances. In this time of increasing personal isolation, choral dancing is a great way to weave strangers into a community, and for a community to build and reaffirm its bonds.

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